Tuesday, February 26, 2013

'Crayfish' by Fleur Adcock

Of course with all those legs they’re arthropods –
crayfish, lobsters and their armoured ilk.
At school one day a bunch of us nipped out
in our lunch-break and bought a prickly hulk
to have our way with, rip apart and crunch.

It was like eating a pterodactyl –
morally, I mean, in retrospect –
but the sea-drenched jelly when I snapped
a leg from the carapace, cracked it and sucked in
ecstasy… no, that’s no way to talk.

Think of the blood-orange-pink smashed shards,
the pimpled plates of the exoskeleton,
reduced to midden-debris, wrapped
in newspaper in the prefects’ room bin;
think of the handsome creature; feel the guilt.

Archaic, slow to mature, not adult
for ten years, it lurks deep among rocks:
the spiny or rock lobster – the one that lacks
claws. To shock predators when attacked
it screeches with its quavering antennae:

friction, not vocalisation. Moult by moult,
given time, it can grow to the bulk
of a dog. Cilla McQueen said it can walk
all the way across the bed of the Tasman
to Australia, feeler to feeler with its kin.

Soon to be published in Glass Wings (Bloodaxe/Victoria University Press), and posted with the permission of the author.

Editor: Helen Rickerby

I’m really excited to be able to share this new, unpublished poem by Fleur Adcock, an important contemporary poet and one of my poetic heroes.

In September of last year I went to Europe for the first time (not counting the time I went when I was 18 months old because that really doesn’t count), and through a series of fortunate events – mainly having such an awesome friend as Anna Jackson (also one of my poetic heroes), who happened to be going to a conference in the UK at the same time as I was in Europe – I got to do a poetry reading with Anna and Fleur.

As a bit of a Fleur-Adcock fangirl, this was especially exciting for me. She was one of my first ‘grown-up’ poets and, as a becoming-poet, she was a great inspiration to me. It also helped that she was a woman who had grown up (part of the time at least) in Wellington, not even half-an-hour away from where I lived!

Because the reading had been organised by the New Zealand Studies Network, and was in the UK, both Anna and I read poems that were about New Zealand or UK – that had a connection to place. I read some about Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, and I remember Anna reading her poem about the British Museum. Fleur read new poems, ones that were connected to New Zealand. I particularly remember poems about her father, and a farm in the middle of nowhere, inland from Kāwhia. These new poems, like ‘Crayfish’ above, are from her new collection Glass Wings, which is just about to be published – in the UK by Bloodaxe, and in New Zealand by Victoria UniversityPress. She will be back in New Zealand for a visit in April/May to launch the book and I will certainly keep my eyes out for any readings she might do.

Fleur has been living away from New Zealand since 1963, and she had also lived in the UK during the really formative years from five to thirteen, so it’s no wonder she has had an ambivalent relationship with New Zealand and with whether she was a New Zealander at all. We of course, like to claim her and, especially in her more recent books including this one, she has explored her memories of and connections to New Zealand in her poetry.

The starting point of ‘Crayfish’ is some girls buying and devouring a crayfish at lunchtime. I am imagining this taking place at the old fish-and-chip shop that used to be across the road from Parliament (now demolished to make way for apartments), but I have no evidence for that. It’s a wonderfully visual poem, or maybe sensual rather – because as well as seeing the ‘blood-orange-pink’ crayfish I can also hear the snapping of its limbs and the slurping of its flesh, and my fingers feel greasy from the ‘sea-drenched jelly’. There’s also a lot of sound effects going on in the poem itself – there’s rhyme, but not always where you expect it – sometimes it’s internal rhyme, and sometimes the echo appears lines and lines away from the original word (such as ‘snapped’, ‘wrapped’, ‘attacked’). I would love to hear her read it.

I also love how it moves from that remembered event to an appreciation of the crayfish – and in fact a wee lesson on its development and behaviour. There’s that lovely reference to New Zealand poet Cilla McQueen, and we’re left with the image of the crayfish walking across the seafloor, heading away from New Zealand – perhaps a little like the poet herself, though in her case not to Australia.

In tandem with this brand-new poem by Fleur, I’m sharing one of her very early poems on my own blog: http://wingedink.blogspot.co.nz/2013/02/tuesday-poem-incident-by-fleur-adcock.html. And, as always, there’s a cornucopia of poems on the blogs of the other Tuesday Poets on the left.

This week's editor, Helen Rickerby, is a poet from Wellington, where she works a day job as web editor. In what's left of her time she also publishes books as Seraph Press and is co-managing editor of JAAM magazine. She's published two collections of poetry: My Iron Spine (HeadworX 2008) and Abstract Internal Furniture (HeadworX 2001), and a handbound chapbook, Heading North (Kilmog Press, 2010). Her current poetic project is all about how to live – it may be a little too ambitious. She blogs irregularly at: http://wingedink.blogspot.com/.


Helen Lowe said...

I really enjoyed this poem--Helen & Fleur :)-- particularly the transition from recollection and the full-on, almost cannibalistic sensory experience of consuming the crayfish, to the acknowledgment and tribute to the wonder of the living creature itself. Thanks to both of you for the opportunity to read and appreciate it ahead of the collection coming out.

Janis said...

Great poem! Thanks for posting it, Helen. I'm looking forward to reading the collection now.

lillyanne said...

This is a lovely poem, and although I know quite a lot of Fleur's poetry this one is new to me (well, since it's unpublished, it would be!). Thanks very much for posting it.

Jean-Paul Sartre Quotes said...

We must act out passion before we can feel it.
Jean-Paul Sartre

Helen McKinlay said...

Such a great description of the healthy schoolgirls and their healthy appetites
'At school one day a bunch of us nipped out
in our lunch-break and bought a prickly hulk
to have our way with, rip apart and crunch.'
And then the adult reflections on such an innocent act and the beauty of the crayfish. It could bring down the crayfish industry! Thanks for posting this Helen. It's a wonderful poem.

Ben Hur said...

Great poem, Helen.Fleur would be astounded at the price of crayfish today!

Anonymous said...

It's a vividly beautiful poem.

Catherine said...

Great to hear that Fleur is coming to New Zealand, I suppose only to the North Island?

Poem for Kids said...

This poem is really heart touching, fabulous and awesome. Nice sharing.